Just Adeline

Silhouette of a woman with the caption: "She was just Adeline."

Just Adeline

Short story by Iris Carden

Adam was a clever and kind little boy.  Some people thought it odd that he preferred to play dolls with girls, than cricket with boys, but most just put it down to him being quiet and a little shy.

One day Adam said to his Mum, “I think God made a mistake.  I think I was meant to be a girl.”

His mother, not knowing if such a mistake were possible, said as kindly as she could, “I know you like some of the same things that girls like.  That’s fine.  Everyone is different, you don’t have to be like all the other boys.  But you were made a boy, so you need to make the best of the situation.”

Adam tried to make the best of the situation.  He worked hard at school, he helped out on the cattle property, taking on more responsibility as he grew older.  He had friends, both male and female.  Throughout his childhood and teen years, Adam tried to be a good friend to the other kids around him, he studied hard, and although he was never quite happy, he tried to make the best of things.

After high school, he went away to the agricultural college, then came back, resumed his role on the station, and married his high school girlfriend Jenny. 

Through fire and flood and drought, Adam was always the first to step up and help others. He was well regarded by his entire community.  Everyone knew if they had a problem, Adam was the bloke to call on for help.

Eventually he and Jenny had two lovely children, who he loved more than life itself.  His parents retired, confident in handing the entire running of the property over to Adam.

From the outside, Adam seemed to have an idyllic life.  His business was doing well, better even than when his parents ran it.  He had a lovely wife who loved him, and kids who seemed just as smart and kind as himself.

Jenny, Adam’s parents, and some other close friends, however, noticed that despite all the good things in his life, Adam never seemed happy.

Adam was still making the best of the situation, as he had been since childhood.  And although he loved so many aspects of his life, he always felt that something was deeply wrong. He felt like a fraud, as if his entire life was some kind of performance. Most of the time, he felt it wasn’t even a good performance.  He constantly expected to be laughed off the stage, to hear that nobody believed his act.

“Why can’t they all see I’m not the person I pretend to be?” he asked himself a dozen times a day.

On his fortieth birthday, Adam decided he couldn’t deal with the lie any more.  He took a knife to the bathroom, ran a tub of warm water, and cut his wrists.

Jenny found him in time to save his life.  

It was the turning point.  Both Adam and Jenny knew things could not go on as they had been.  “What will it take to make you happy with your life?” Jenny asked.

Then it poured out.  Adam told her about making the best of the situation, about the performance, about being a fraud, about believing he was in the wrong body. He told her all the things he had been afraid to say.  Then waited, holding his breath, for her to tell him he was nuts, or to walk out on him.

Jenny listened to it all. Then she said, “There probably weren’t options when you were a kid, but I there must be by now.  Let’s find them.”

For the first time in his life, Adam was hopeful. He and Jenny began researching, he talked to his doctor.  They found a support group.

Then Adam took the trip to the city, to see a specialist.  Jenny tried to explain to family and friends, and to prepare them, not for Adam’s return, but for Adeline’s.

Rural communities are not known for accepting radical change quickly.  Many of their friends simply said it was crazy, and they wouldn’t play along.  Jenny insisted, and some agreed, others just decided to stay away.

Adeline returned, dressed as a woman, and with a supply of hormone tablets.  

Jenny taught her how to apply make-up, and how to do the hair Adeline was growing out.

Many of their former friends treated the new Adeline with suspicion.

Over months, her body shape began to change, and she began to look more like the woman she insisted she had always really been. 

People who had known her for her entire life ignored her.  When she went into town, the staff at the shop were polite, but no longer friendly.   Former close friends kept away, and were awkward when they had to be near her.

Despite the rejections, Adeline was far more happy than she could ever remember being.  She felt more free, more authentic.  

She still did the same work on the cattle station, although as the hormones reduced her muscle mass she found some of the work harder.  She still loved her wife and children dearly.  She still loved her ageing parents. She did all the same things, but she did it all without the overwhelming burden of feeling a fraud. For the first time, she was able to experience feeling contented with her life.

Then lightning struck an ancient gum tree, and fire spread at ridiculous speeds across a massive area.

Adeline was one of the first to go out to fight for her neighbours’ properties.  

As graziers battled together against the flames, they realised Adeline was the same person who had always been side by side with them though many such crises. In giving up her maleness, she had not given up her commitment to her friends and her community. She was different, but she was still one of them.

In the exhaustion and anxiety of a days-long battle against nature herself, Adeline regained the respect neighbours had always held for Adam. She cemented her place back in the community she had spent her life in.

As time went on, people started to see that underneath the change was still the “good bloke” they’d known for forty years.  Some, who were a little more observant, noticed that Adeline held herself with  a confidence Adam never had, that she seemed happier than Adam had ever been, that she seemed somehow stronger than Adam.

In the future, when newcomers would say something about her being “strange”, life-toughened graziers would say, “She’s not strange, she’s just Adeline.” 

If you or someone you know is struggling with emotional or mental health issues, or suicidal thoughts, Lifeline Australia can help: phone 13 11 14.


By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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